Students Reflect on Bullying, Genocide, & Non-violence

“A lot of people at my school need to work on taking a stand against injustices.” Nearly 250 students, from 9th through 12th grade joined in an hour-long discussion about the documentary film Coexist at Amherst Regional High School in Western Massachusetts on Thursday October 27, 2011. Upstander Director Dr. Mishy Lesser designed and facilitated the workshop prompting students to think about their own role in conflict. One student reflected, “I see fear, greed, and hate at school, which I was able to think more about.”

Teachers from English, Acting, Social Studies, and French agreed to use the Coexist Viewer’s Guide and screen the film before Mishy’s arrival. Teachers pooled their students in the library, taking over the space for five periods, thanks to generous support from the high school’s librarians. Another student observed, “You have to do something to stop harm. If everyone waits for someone else to do it, it won’t get done.”

During the workshops students developed a group definition of genocide, identified the behaviors that contribute to genocide, those that contribute to preventing the escalation of violence and scapegoating, and discussed which behaviors that contribute to genocide might be present in the school community, even if in a milder form. One student made an important connection, “Bullying is like mini-genocide. I [now see] the connection between bullying and genocide.” Another student said, “Genocide is caused by fear and greed, but also caused by people being bystanders, and people not taking action.”

Principal Mark Jackson and student leaders of STAND invited Mishy to lead the workshops. STAND is the student-led division of United to End Genocide. The event was planned over the course of several months, which allowed student leaders enough time to identify and recruit a variety of teachers to participate in the Coexist workshop. STAND group envisions a world in which the international community protects civilians from genocidal violence.

Following the workshop one student said, “In school people are quick to judge and write people off without fully understanding the other person’s situation, or even attempting to.” Another wrote, “The only way people can live in peace is if we communicate and try to practice non-violence. “

The event was made possible thanks to the generous support of Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee of Orange. The Coexist team looks forward to returning to Amherst Regional High School to work with other students and teachers, and is available to work in nearby middle and high schools.

Watch this video for a look at what a Coexist workshop looks like in action:

What are viewers saying about Coexist?

Audience members yearn for more time to unpack the many messages of Coexist. Here are recent comments about both the film and the debriefing discussions facilitated by members of the Coexist team:

"Coexist is a remarkable film and unparalleled in conveying the complexities of life today in Rwanda for survivors of the genocide. The experience of survivors such as Grace and Domitilie, and the unique opportunity to hear their views in their own words, is a call to action for us all. Not only must we remember the victims of the genocide, but also the survivors still living with the consequences of genocide today." -David Russell, Executive Director SURF (Survivors Fund)

. . .

"This is an excellent film. Of the various films I have seen on the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, this is the most truthful, the most real. It presents things as they are, not driven by the desire to show how wonderfully people reconcile. It shows the pain, the mistrust, with some glimmering of hope." -Professor Ervin Staub, author of Overcoming Evil: Genocide, Violent Conflict and Terrorism (Oxford University Press, 2011) and Founding Director of the doctoral program in Psychology of Peace and Prevention of Violence, University of Massachusetts Amherst.

. . .

Coexist was carefully and sensitively made, drawing in a variety of narratives, beliefs, and perceptions that underscore the complexity of mass violence. The video and educational programs serve as beneficial learning tools for American adults and young people who may not know much about Rwanda and have not been faced with the need for social healing and reconciliation after genocide. I especially appreciate the film for not offering simplistic remedies to the profound questions of how people live together, and live with themselves, after such atrocity. The film reminds us that we each face ourselves and manage our recovery differently, and that human beings have an astounding resilience." - Dr. Paula Green, founder, Karuna Center for Peacebuilding, and CONTACT Program, SIT (School for International Training Graduate Institute)

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"The power of the film and Mishy's way of inviting us to experience it deeply has Saturday evening still reverberating in me. So many levels of engagement arose as the evening progressed, with Mishy setting the context, with the brief history presented, with Mishy’s inviting and facilitating comments from the audience." - Sarah Conn, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist and Co-Founder, Earth Circles

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"Coexist is outstanding, in part because it brings up for viewers so many profound thoughts and feelings. The film underscores our capacity as humans for evil and betrayal and injustice. And Mishy's welcoming, context-setting, and facilitation of the debriefing were terrific." - Robert Ryan, Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness Consultant/Coach

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"Coexist is so evocative; it crushes the heart because it is so real and tells the truth about what did happen and what could happen. I feel edified by having seen it." - Brett Litz, Ph.D., VA Boston Healthcare System and Boston University

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